Andy was just an interesting fellow.
He'd never been out of his home town until he went to college.
He rarely showed any signs of emotion, but he had a great sense of humor.
He became a devoted Christian while we were in college, and often told people, "Just remember. Jesus loves me and he loves you."
When he became angry, however, Andy would simply say in a deadpan fashion, with a completely straight face, "Just remember, Jesus loves me, and he LIKES you."
But when things really went badly—I mean REALLY bad, he would eventually throw up his hands and look at the sky and yell, "Good God Almighty, what do you WANT from me?"
Haven't you ever felt like doing that? Just looking up at God and pleading with Him, "Good God Almighty, what do you WANT of me?"
Scripture — Micah 6: 6-8 (NIV)
Whether it's Christmas or someone's birthday, or any other gift-giving occasion, there are some people simply impossible to find gifts for—what do you get for someone who doesn't want or need anything? You'd like to give something meaningful, but it's hard. Perhaps this is how the prophet Micah was feeling. "What can I do for God?" It's a question we've all asked (I hope). What could God want from us? Is anything we might hope to offer good enough? Micah's name means, "Who is like Yahweh?" Because God is unique, how can we hope to please Him?
Micah personifies and speaks for the nation of Israel—both felt guilty before God; both were filled with an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. God's people had sinned; they were like a schoolchild sent to the Principal's office. They knew they were in trouble and couldn't figure what to do about it.
Micah prophesied during the eighth century BC, when Israel and Judah had risen to heights of economic affluence but were spiritually bankrupt. There's certainly nothing wrong with financial prosperity, so long as it does not replace our devotion to God.
The prophet appears before the Lord empty-handed. He sees the insufficiency of sacrifices and offerings. External rituals aren't enough to please God. In fact, the nation has been inactive, out of practice; they've forgotten how to pray, they've lost touch with the Scriptures. They've forgotten the Law of God and have become ignorant on how to approach the Lord. They're like people who attend worship only once a year and who've forgotten what to do/what goes on in church.
With efforts to remove God from our schools and public life in general, our nation could eventually become like the Israel of Micah's day. Someone who wrote a letter to the editor of USA Today wondered, "If we separate ourselves enough from God, when we find we need Him, will He listen?" How do we repair the bond of fellowship with God? Micah calls God "exalted"—the word means high, lifted up. For some, God seems far away, remote, inaccessible. Yet God is as close as prayer.
What can we offer God? Verses 6-7 offer some suggestions, but these external things are not what God requires. The quality of our worship is important, but not nearly as important as the quality of our lives. All forms of worship are acceptable only as they are accompanied by clean hands. Micah is saying, don't assume that religious ritual alone will please God...
Sins were forgiven through sacrifices, and for all time through the sacrifice of Christ. These verses aren't saying that sacrifices are meaningless...but they can be empty and ineffective if our attitude is wrong.
There are many more ways to appear "devout". People through the ages have sought to gain God's favor with acts of piety. For example, in church we pray the Lord's Prayer, a wonderful prayer which unites us to all believers. But some people figured the more they said it, the closer to God they'd become. They would recite the Lord's Prayer dozens of times a day...even though Jesus condemned "vain repetition" in prayer.
How would you like an appointment with God? That would be pretty intimidating. Appearing before God might seem like a job interview—you want to make a good impression. When we approach God, He's not concerned about what's on our résumé or whether we're "dressed for success"; He's concerned about what's in our hearts. He accepts us even though we may think we're not very wise or important. No matter what we bring when we pray, we have God's attention and full acceptance.
Verse 8 tells us what God does require of us. However, let's clear up a possible misperception. We cannot earn salvation—we can only receive it. Verse 8 is not the plan or path of salvation. God is stating what He wants from those who are already His people. Acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly are the outgrowth of genuine faith. Charles Spurgeon once stated, "If faith does not make a person honest, it is not an honest faith." These things show us what God's people do—not how we become His people. A living faith is seen by godly behavior. Our actions reveal whether our faith is true or not. Micah lists three characteristics of a life that is pleasing to God. Authentic faith produces personal holiness because it comes from God, along with the power and desire to live for Him. These things can't be done without God.
In other words, act with fairness, honesty, and integrity. Micah had a special concern for justice, primarily because he saw so little of it.
What God requires of us is that we do what is right and fair in our relationships with other people. Justice involves the sense of a standard of equality among people.
What are we doing to promote justice in our community? Do we keep informed? Do we offer to be advocates for people in need? Do we speak out against injustice? President Lincoln said, "To sin by silence when one should speak makes cowards of men." There is no place for injustice, inequity or unfairness in our lives. Our faith must lead us to ethical behavior. Knowledge without responsible action is sin. We should ask ourselves: What can I do to preserve human rights? How can I uphold the sanctity of life? How should I respond to injustice?
We must settle it deep in our hearts to be a people of integrity, and be on guard in the battle to "act justly."
Micah tells us three things God requires of us. One is to act justly. Easy task. But it is hard to make a reality.
The second thing that God requires of us is that we "love mercy."
...A businessman needed to have a professional photo taken. When the photographer was done, the man looked at his photo and complained, "This doesn't do me justice." The photographer responded, "With a face like yours you don't need justice—you need mercy." We all need mercy, and we need to offer it. We are also to fill our hearts with compassion and kindness toward one another. We are compelled by Christ to offer unconditional acceptance of others, in spite of their faults, idiosyncrasies, sins and shortcomings. We need to approach people without pre-conceived notions; we should give others the benefit of the doubt. Notice also that the requirement here is not that we HAVE mercy, but that we are to LOVE mercy. And loving mercy means we grant forgiveness. We should ask ourselves: How can I show mercy to others? Who is in need, and how can I help? Who do I need to forgive?
Micah tells us three things God requires of us. One is to act justly. The second is to love mercy. Easy tasks. But hard to make a reality.
We don't love mercy.
We don't value kindness.
We return rudeness with rudeness.
We allow opportunities to show kindness to pass us by.
When we should be gentle with others, we are harsh.
Have you noticed that when Micah tells us what God expects, the first two things he expects have nothing to do with God. They have to do with how we behave toward one another.
God expects His children to love and get along with one another. He expects His children to treat one another justly and fairly, and He expects His children to love mercy and to show kindness toward one another.
But the third expectation Micah shares is that God expects us to have a right relationship with Him—with God Himself.
That right relationship with God always begins with humility, not arrogance.
Humility means being precisely the person we actually are before God. A humble person can be authentic, no masks, no facade. If we're humble we can be ourselves—we don't have to mimic someone else's experiences or spirituality. We should ask ourselves: Who am I trying to be like—instead of myself? How can I be more genuine?
I hope our neighbors, friends, co-workers can see Christ working in us. I hope they see us acting justly, loving mercy and walking humbly before God. People we know may not read the Bible, but they will read us. It's been said,
"A Christian is a mind through which Christ thinks; a heart through which Christ loves; a voice through which Christ speaks; a hand through which Christ helps."
God expects us to walk humbly with Him. Easy task. But it is hard to make a reality. We are arrogant. We are proud. We tend to think that God's role is to make us happy, to serve us, to answer our prayers. But it is we who are to serve and glorify God.
SO — WHAT DOES GOD WANT FROM US? Not that much, really.
To act justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with God.
Prayer: Lord, nothing in our hands we bring; simply to Your cross we cling. Show us how to promote justice in an unjust world; show us how to present Your truth to this dark, lost world; enable us to humbly accept and be ourselves. Most of all, enable us to live our faith. By Your mercy and for Your glory we pray—in the Name of Jesus, Amen.